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Real estate record and builders' guide: [v. 91, no. 2358]: May 24, 1913

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ESTATE BUILDERS AND NEW YORK, MAY 24, 1913 ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■^^^ ■ PROGRAM VS. PROTEST IN CITY ECONOMY I --------------------------- I Only After the Public Knows What Specific Things it Wants to Have Done in the Next Four Years Will it Know How to Judge Candidates for Office. -Article III, Part I- B—tei. By HENRY BRUERE, Director, Bureau of Municipal Research. ON APRIL 8, 1913, a group of prom¬ inent citizens, who are also large taxpayers or the representatives of large taxpaying interests, issued a demand for economy in city government. Year after year, particularly in seasons when thoughts of election arise, taxpayers have issued similar statements. Taxpayers' Interest in Government. To one who stops to think about it, it is a remarkable thing that govern¬ ments are able to take by power of taxation the large sums that they do t?.ke from private property owners. Think of it! In 1913, New York City will collect out of the surplus earnings of taxpayers $151,607,084.85. The econo¬ mist will say, and with justification, that many of these taxpayers are only givina; back to the city that which the city has bestowed upon them through its growth. The fact remains that they do give it back, and each year in increasing sums. Taxpayers' Interest in Efficiency. Titne after time the suggestion has been made that if taxpayers would con¬ tribute a small sum, a fraction of one per cent, of their annual tax bills for continuous observation of city business, many times their contributions would be saved to them in reduced tax bills. This may be true, but it is also true that taxpayers do not look upon the problem of city expenditures with a single mind. What is an imposition to one taxpayer is a benefit to another. City expendi¬ tures are a complexity of balancing detri¬ ments and benefits. Taxpayer .\, who prefers bottled water to the water which the city supplies, because sometimes Croton water is discolored and looks in¬ jurious, is in favor of spending $8,000.- 000 on a filtration plant. Taxpayer B. to whom the cost of bottled water is of no consequence, and who is assured that discoloration does not mean danger in the city's supply, looks with hostility on an $8,000,000 filtration proposal. Taxpayer A, whose children attend pri¬ vate schools, accepts as a burden of citizenship or a duty of patriotism in¬ creasing taxes for schools. Taxpayer B, whose children attend public school will vote blinndfolded for any increase in tax bills, if the increase is to be used for public education. Do All Taxpayers 'Want Economy? The problem of economy in municipal expenditures is a problem of ferreting out those expenditures which benefit no one and which work to the injury of all ta.xpayers. Even when such expendi¬ tures are found, it is quite a diflferent thing to arouse sufficient interest in tax¬ payers to lead them to take the neces¬ sary steps to compel economy. The fact of being a taxpayer does not make a man unwilling to tolerate and sometimes to participate in municipal grafting. Taxpayers own disorderly houses and connive at police corruption; taxpayers own saloons and connive at violation of the excise law; taxpayers cause needless expense to the city by failing to take simple precautions against fire. These conflicts between greed and law cost taxpayers money for police salaries, courts and jails. In no class of ex¬ penditure has the city been more wan¬ tonly exploited than in expenditures for the purchase of land, but all real estate bought in New York City for city pur¬ poses is bought from taxpayers. I have yet to hear of a single case, although, doubtless, it may have occurred, where a taxpayer oflfered to sell his land to the city at assessed valuation. ■Where Taxpayers are Blamable. Taxpayers object to over-assessment, but taxpayers have not made right as¬ sessment easy through the registration of the true consideration rn sales. Tax¬ payers own the tenement houses of the city, and taxpayers know or might eas¬ ily know the provisions of the tenement house law and the sanitary code with which they are required to comply; but it costs the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to make taxpayers comply with these simple precautions against disease and immorality. Taxpayers as a class, therefore, are neither for nor against efficient govern¬ ment, except at the moment when the tax bill must be paid and eflficient gov¬ ernment promises a lower bill next time, .\s a first step in obtaining real econo¬ my in city government I commend to taxpayers in New York City considera¬ tion of those things which taxpayers themselves can do to eflfect economy. Welfare vs. Retrenchment. My conviction is that it will continue futile for taxpayers, as taxpayers, to pro¬ test against the increasing cost of gov¬ ernment, until the public is convinced that better conditions of living can be established as a result of city govern¬ ment activity, if the work of city govern¬ ment is made efficient, and waste is eliminated. The humblest citizen paying his taxes in the diluted form of rent or increased cost of food, but realizing that extrava¬ gance and corruption in city government means less education for his children and less health and protection for his family, has a stronger motive and wider potential influence for economy than can be exercised by the .\stor estate with all its millions of taxable property. Two Things to Be Done. Taxpayers, if they want lower taxes and more service must do two things: 1. They must organize upon a posi¬ tive program of activity instead of a negative program of retrenchment. 2. They must continue day after day to interpret waste and ineflficiency in terms of deprivation of beneficial ser¬ vice. The Bureau of Municipal Research, whatever may have been its accomplish¬ ments, is unquestionably the only agency ever established in any American city that has worked consecutively for eight years with the single purpose of obtain¬ ing efficiency in city government. Many taxpayers contribute to the support of the Bureau of Municipal Research. But the Bureau never would have been estab¬ lished, nor would it ever have been able to conduct its work on its present scope had it not been able to obtain support from men and women who want govern¬ ment to be efficient, not to lower tax bills, but to save lives, improve the com¬ fort and convenience, and advance the welfare of all the people of the city of New York, and not merely those who directly pay taxes, A Motive Is Necessary. What is true in New York is true the country over. So long as cities relied upon the expected but rarely realized eflfective protest of taxpayers to keep down the cost of government or to make government efficient, government con¬ tinued wasteful and ineflficient. But any city, such as Des Moines, that comes to realize that efficient city government means advantageous commercial adver¬ tisement, and that wasteful city govern¬ ment means forfeiture of ability to obtain improvements and satisfaction of pressing demands for city betterment, immediately acquires a motive that is enduring for city efficiency.. The whole commission government move¬ ment sprang out of Galveston's sudden realization, as a result of its flood, that every citizen of Galveston had a vital interest in the efficiency of its city gov¬ ernment. The city government at that juncture was the only agency competent to relieve the needs of all citizens, and in a position to undertake the work of the town's reconstruction. This dra¬ matic episode has helped more than 250 cities now under the commission plan to realize the relation of eflficient gov¬ ernment to general community welfare. The present administration of the city government went into office pledged to economy and efficiency, but it probably never would have gone into oflfice had it not been pledged to municipal owner¬ ship of rapid transit lines. The next mayor will probably go iiito office pledged to economy and eflficiency, but from present appearances his election will be aided more by his advocacy of police reform than by his pledges to economize. This will be true, despite thfe fact that the most important steps necessary to bring about efficiency in the police are the same as those neces-